IMN proscription and national security
The history of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN, is not clearly defined by religious scholars. The reformist Islamic movement was known at a period as Muslim Brotherhood, which was an offshoot of the Muslim Student's Society, MSS, founded in 1954.
Following this, the Jama'atul Tajdid Islam (JTI, Society for the Revival of Islam) then broke away from the Muslim Brothers in 1994, accusing its founder, Sheik Ibrahim al-Zakzaky, for his undemocratic leadership style and for secretly promoting Shi'ism as the group's ideology.
Also, following al-Zakzaky's periodic arrests in the late 1990s, the JTI fused with the reformist Izala, Society for the Eradication of Innovation and Restoration of Tradition and acceded to cooperation, not confrontation with the Nigerian government.
In December 1994, the Muslim fundamentalist group, the Shi’ites brutally beheaded Goron Dutse, an Igbo man who was accused of using pages from the Koran to clean the toilet.
Dutse was arrested, but while in prison a mob of former IMN members turned Shi’ites defied all security arrangements, broke into Dutse’s prison cell and publicly beheaded him.
Also, in December 2015, the group clashed with the Nigeria Army resulting in violence of massive proportions, as over three hundred members of the sect including three of the Sheikh’s children were murdered by the military during a brutal crackdown in Zaria, Kaduna state.
The Kaduna state government claimed that if the group is allowed to go unchecked, they will constitute danger to the peace, tranquility, harmonious coexistence and good governance of the state.
Ever since, the escalating crisis between members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, IMN, and the Federal Government appears to have come to a climax following a violent clash between members of the sect and the police in Abuja, in which live ammunition was used and at least a corps member with Channels Television, Precious Owolabi, as well as a senior police officer Deputy Commissioner Usman Umar was killed alongside at least 11 others.
For a while now, protest matches by members of the sect has gathered considerable momentum, especially in Abuja, where, almost on daily basis, there has been an open confrontation between protesting members of the sect and the police.
While it seems that the government may be trying to wear down the sect by attrition, the sect too appears determined that their leader must be released.
It’s almost four years after the Zaria massacre and Sheikh El-Zakzaki and his wife remain in detention while security operatives, especially the Nigerian military continue to use lethal force against the members.
The federal government has also refused to obey previous court rulings directing that the Sheikh be released and his members be allowed to exercise their rights to religious freedom and peaceful assembly.
On the other hand, one of the visible charges often brought against the Shiites group is that the organization is an extremist group and that it is a threat to the Nigerian state by calling for Islamic state in northern Nigeria.
Indeed, before now, many have called for its proscription, as others labelled the group ‘rabidity. In other words, the ostensible reason for the periodic attack on and criticism of the sect, is that they are unruly, violent and scheming to establish a parallel state within the Nigerian nation state. For many, Shiites represent ‘an incompleteness’ in Islam and should be purged.
To achieve this call to purge the sect, the federal government had obtained a court order to proscribe the group. The Federal High Court in Abuja had ordered the proscription of the Shi’ite movement.
Justice Nkeonye Maha, issued the order in a ruling in which she also designated the activities of the Shiite organisation in any part of Nigeria “as acts of terrorism and illegality.”
The court restrained “any person or group of persons” from participating in any form of activities involving or concerning the IMN “under any name or platform” in Nigeria.
To complete the process of the proscription of the group, the court ordered the Attorney-General of the Federation “to publish the order proscribing the movement in the official gazette and two national dailies.
This prescription of the group by the federal government has since generated controversies among Nigerians.
A member of the IMN, Abdullahi Musa, said despite the order, the group will not relent in its activities which he described as religious in nature.
Musa, who noted that he was not speaking on behalf of the group, said the court order was in his view, a “senseless decision” of government given the spate of killings allegedly “perpetrated by security operatives without prosecution of culprits.”
On his part, the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onayeikan, has described the proscription of the Shi’ite movement by the federal government as an error.
Onaiyekan said that other religious beliefs in the country are under threat as the government could simply obtain a court order and proscribe them? The cleric said Nigerians must press the government to respect the rights of religious groups to exist and operate in the country.
Going by these clarion calls, it is therefore our hope that the government will reverse itself because the impression the Shi’ite proscription gives about Nigeria around the world is not palatable.
We should as Nigerians remember that this year marks 10 years since the start of the Boko Haram uprising in north eastern Nigeria where suicide bombings and mass kidnappings have led to the death of tens of thousands of people and the displacement of many others.
Nigeria and Nigerians should do everything possible to avoid second edition of Boko Haram insurgency.